Held Hostage

The priest Nan-chuan found monks from the eastern and western halls arguing over a cat. He held up the cat and said, “Everyone! If you can say something, I will spare this cat. If you can’t say anything, I will cut off its head.” The monks were speechless, so Nan-chuan cut the cat in two.

That evening, Chao-chou returned from outside and Nan-chuan told him what had happened. Chao-chou removed a sandal from his foot, put it on his head, and walked out.

Nan-chuan said, “If you had been there, the cat would have been spared.”

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 14


Holding a cat hostage. Holding a community hostage. Holding a world hostage. I feel that I have been held hostage these past few weeks. Not by the virus itself, but by everything in my head peripheral to the virus: the bad news and statistics, the poor government response, the collapsing stock market which indicates a collapsing economy, my anxiousness over friends and relatives. All of that obsession, all of that allowing for my capture, can, in a way, take away life. It can kill the cat.


But in his response, Chao Chou brought life back to the cat, and to the world. Life will find a way, perhaps he is saying. We will find a way.


Recently, I have been dragged into another hostage crisis. In this crisis, survival also hangs in the balance. If we are diligent, kind and giving, however, I am certain it will end with the gift of life. Please see below a friend’s ransom note to his local Pacific Zen affiliate group:


As many of you know, during our six-week hiatus, Carla allowed me to take home the bowl that we use to ring in and ring out our meditation period. After 30 years of mediation, struggling toward enlightenment and failing, I am driven to drastic measures. I'm now holding the bowl hostage until the Desert Lotus Zen Sangha delivers enlightenment to me.

In hostage situations like this, usually proof of life is requested. Below you will see a picture of the bowl as yet unharmed in front of a copy of today’s Arizona Republic. To prove that it is unharmed in any way, you may recognize its voice from the audio file attached.

The Sangha has until 4 PM on April 5th to comply with my demands.

Love you all!

Soon to be enlightened, Dan


Where is my sandal? Where is my sandal?


Jon Joseph, Roshi



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